OK here's the deal. A couple weeks ago I preached a message on missional living, and one of the main scriptures I used was Romans 12:1-2. It went pretty well, but there is a point that keeps sticking in my head about that particular passage.
I know that typically this passage is used to illustrate what our heart attitude should be. It's used in messages that deal with worship, and being "in the world but not of it". All of this is completely accurate, useful and true. But one word in that first verse stands out to me...."sacrifice".
You know how there are always particular passages of scripture that just seem to stick with you. They seem to always come to mind at the strangest times, or you just seem drawn to them for some unexplainable reason? For me, this is one of those. Lately, I just can't seem to get it out of my head (not like I'm trying to forget it.... you know what I mean). It's just that God has made this more apparent in my mind, maybe for reasons only He knows. Anyway, back to sacrifice.
I have to wonder if the Apostle Paul didn't use the word sacrifice for a reason that we may sometimes miss. It's true that there is the whole concept of "dying to one's self" at work here, and I think that is how this passage is typically interpreted . The idea of sacrificially giving of one's self... giving up our own desires to follow Him is normally what we take away from this, and that interpretation is absolutely correct. However, there may be something else at work here. You see, Paul wrote this in a time when people would have been very familiar with the idea and practice of sacrificing animals to God. They knew that even though it was something that was commanded by God in the books of the Law, it was messy and ugly. When the people in the Roman Church heard Paul's words, their minds would have instantly pulled up images of what sacrifice was. Even the Gentiles in the church who would not have made sacrificing animals on an alter part of their lives would surely still have known what it was all about.
When an animal was sacrificed, there was blood and pain and yes, even if only briefly, some suffering, and then death. Death does not always come quick and painlessly. Who should we ask that would know about that kind of death..... maybe Jesus comes to mind? When Paul wrote these words, Jesus' death was only 60 years or so past. The people no doubt would have still been very aware of the crucifixion of Jesus, and I can't help but wonder if that's not what Paul wanted them to be thinking about.
So let me just sum it all up like this. Paul himself knew all too well how painful it could be to walk the path of Jesus. Sometimes, it even involved spilling his own blood. It is more than just giving up our own desires to follow the path of Christ. Sometimes we Christians today set back and lament over how much we "sacrifice" for Christ.... one night a week..... a couple hours of our time on Sunday. Maybe even some material possession that we really wanted, but "gave up" so that we could be good and tithe. I'm not necessarily convinced that that's how Paul intended that verse to play out.
Sometimes following Jesus can be painful and messy and hard. In Matthew chapter 5, Jesus says "blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness". Later He teaches about the cost of following him, and he tells his disciples that "men will hate you because of me".
Paul could have used any number of words when he wrote that sentence to the Romans, but I believe he chose his words very carefully. Following Jesus is not some small, insignificant decision. It may be at great cost, and he wanted to make it clear that if we really understand the sacrifice that Jesus made for us, we would be prepared to do the same for him.
Not trying to be too heavy here...... I'm just sayin'....